Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do aunts and cows have in common?

Whatever terrible, offensive thing you're thinking, you've got it all wrong!  In my experience, aunts and cows both have the makings for delicious chip dips.  In the case of my relatives, though, it's more culinary knowledge than raw ingredients that they bring to the table...  I feel as though I might be digging myself into a hole here.  Maybe I should just get to the stories and recipes.

For Halloween a few weeks ago, I was asked to bring a suitably-themed appetizer to my coworker/friend's party.  So, I whipped out my dear Aunt Lois' recipe for tortilla dip.  It's a lovely orange colour, and I thought it would be appropriately festive with blue-black corn chips.  Mmm. 

I first tasted this over a decade ago.  Aunt Lois would always have the most wonderful parties at her beachfront house, with some very tasty treats-- this was one of them.  Being the ever-gracious hostess, she shared the recipe with me and my sisters, and I still have it to this day.  It's a great one to throw together for a game night, potluck, etc.  I love to put it in my fondue pot and keep it warm with the little candle flame... the temperature makes all the difference!

Didn't have time to present this nicely... just whipped it out of the microwave and snapped a few shots.  Forgive me!
Aunt Lois' Tortilla Dip
No clue what her original source was... and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing!

Makes enough to accompany a large bag of tortilla chips
  • 1/2 package cream cheese
  • 1/2 regular-sized jar of Cheez Whiz
  • 1/2 regular-sized jar of salsa (you can shake things up here and use spicy if you like; I kept it medium since I was making this for a large crowd)
  • 1/2 regular-sized jar of queso cheese dip (for example, Tostitos brand)
  1. Cut up cream cheese into cubes.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl
  3. Microwave on high for about ten minutes, stopping to stir every 2 1/2 minutes or so, until all the ingredients have melted together are smoothly and fully incorporated.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips; keep warm in a fondue pot if you desire (it really is best warm!)
To give you an idea of scale... this is my second-largest mixing bowl.  It barely fits in my microwave.  I made a double-batch of this dip, not wanting its constituents (*coughcheezwhizcough*) to be lurking in my apartment, waiting for me to do all sorts of terrible fattening things with them (like pouring melted cheese-like edible oil product over cooked pasta... mmm...) Ahem.  Sorry.  As it turned out, much of the leftovers went to Sherri, who doled out containers to those who enjoyed it.
On to aunt #2, my fantastic Aunt Lisa.  Being only about 15 years older than me, I've always thought of Lisa as more of a big sister than an aunt.  She would do my nails, let me put on her lipstick, let me watch as she and my Uncle Peter played Nintendo games (now I'm really dating myself here...).  She was (and continues to be) a fabulous baker, cook, and hostess.  Even now, she still makes me a special birthday cake every year to help distinguish my special day from Christmas.  It's so incredibly sweet of her.

Among her many amazing dinner party exploits, every year Lisa and her husband Dave host a Boxing Day feast at their home.  It's characterized by great wine, family, good conversation, fabulous appetizers, tempting holiday pastries for dessert, and... wait for it... some of the best Windsor-style pizza for an entree.  After all the work of the holidays, it's nice to kick back and not have to cook the main dish!  I look forward to this day every year, for all the reasons above... and also for Lisa's dill and green onion chip dip.  I could eat this, and only this, the entire day if I were allowed to (somehow I think my mother would frown upon this).  I wanted to make some for a welcome party I hosted for Hubs when he came to visit in July, so I called up Lisa via Skype and she kindly gave me the recipe.  Hubs absolutely loves it.  I made it again recently for my American Sign Language 101 class this past weekend, since I was hosting a study group.  It was (unsurprisingly) well received... Hubs even requested that I email some to him!  If only technology had come so far...

Aunt Lisa's Chip Dip
Again, original source unknown

Makes enough for a jumbo bag of Ruffles plain ridged chips, which I recommend as a vehicle for this dairy-based deliciousness.
  • 1 package cream cheese, at room temperature (I use light, it works just fine too)
  • 1 small tub of sour cream (again, light is okay here)
  • About 1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill (don't ignore me and use dried, you'll regret it!)
  • Three green onions, chopped
  • About 1/2 tsp of salt, to taste
  1. Using a mixer with beater attachments, blend together the salt, cream cheese, and sour cream until fully incorporated and smooth.
  2. Stir in the dill and onion.  Check for seasoning; add more salt/dill/onion, as you like.
  3. For best flavour, chill and let the flavours meld for at least a couple of hours (I chilled mine overnight).  Serve with plain ruffle chips.
Suggested serving!!
It's entries like this that make me miss my family.  I know I'll be seeing Lisa at Christmas, but since moving to Ottawa, I haven't seen Aunt Lois in some time (except for when I Skyped into my family reunion!)  I'm just looking forward to the impending nuptials (the planning for which has been keeping me quite busy) to bring everyone together.

Using my current illness as an excuse to eat chips and dip (it's comfort food!!),

God Bless America!

Ed. note: Alright, folks, I feel as though I've been failing you all here a bit.  After the Weeks of Insanity died down at the end of October, I guess I never fully bounced back.  As it is, it's the middle of the day, and I'm dozing at home due to some sort of stomach/flu/throat soreness bug that I can't seem to shake.  I'm all "sleeped-out" for the moment, so why not regale you with tales of some of the delicious food I've been eating?  Here goes...

As many of you know, I did my Masters degree training in Detroit, which isn't that uncommon for a lot of Canadian students.  Crossing the border every day to get to school (and being subjected to the whims of the U.S, Border Patrol) was a bit of a drag, but it meant that I had daily access to things that Canada (as wonderful as it is) couldn't offer me.  Things like Cherry Coke, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Target, and a "local" Ikea... fantastic.

I seriously pine for this stuff... particularly the "Zero" version.
Back in October, before the Weeks of Insanity, I took a trip down to Lincoln, Nebraska to visit one of my former classmates (who became a dear friend), Steph.  She and I are very much in the same boat: we moved away from our friends and family to a city where we didn't know a soul, all for the sake of being a practicing clinical genetic counsellor.  Hooray for work experience!

It should come as absolutely no surprise that food played a prominent part in our weekend.  Let's start with IHOP, as we did for breakfast (brunch?) several hours after my 3 am arrival.  I am a HUGE fan of the International House Of Pancakes (or potatoes, if you ask Kiks...),  even if they fall a little bit short of good international representation.  Given that it was Thanksgiving weekend, I opted to try their special pumpkin spice pancakes.  These were fantastic... pretty much the best combination of pumpkin pie flavour and moist pancake texture that a girl could ask for.  Top it with butter pecan syrup, and you've got yourself a meal!

And here they ar--uh, oops.  Sorry.  Must've devoured the pancakes before I could get a picture.  The advert on the table will just have to do!
For dinner that evening, we went to a local brewpub chain called Lazlo's.  It had a bit of a Chili's/TGIFriday's kind of feel to it... standard American food fare (not that I'm complaining... I mean, who DOESN'T need cornbread AND fries as side dishes?).  I had a major red meat craving, so I went for a burger.  I was NOT disappointed.  It was juicy, well-cooked, and came with tons of deliciously drippy toppings.  This suits me perfectly.  And the crinkle-cut fries were perfection!  It was a bit finer of a crinkle than I'm used to, which increased the critical surface-area-to-volume ratio (I can hear my old physics teacher cheering), coated in cracked black pepper and sea salt.  Yummy!!

FANTASTIC.  Definitely beat the cow craving right out of me.
Steph, enjoying some barbecue pork roast, fries, and cornbread.  That counts as two vegetable sides, right?!  Potatoes and corn? Ah well, when in Rome...
Your very own Honeybee, tucking in to the burger deliciousness.
After our filling dinner, we headed to downtown Lincoln to see the sights.  There was a huge railway display, and some funky sculptures and so on.  One thing in particular did stand out to me:

NEBRASKA wine sampling?!  Nebraska makes wine...???!
I'm a firm believer in the saying: "You learn something new every day."  Based on my drive into Lincoln, I was already overwhelmingly aware of how much Nebraskans love their corn (more to come on that below...), but wine grapes?!  When I really stopped to think about it, though, Nebraska is approximately on the same latitude as northern California and southwestern Ontario... so it seems less ridiculous now that they could produce wine.

The little giftshop/wine store displaying this sign was staffed by a charming, witty guy.  I have to admit, the wine we tasted was pretty delicious!!  The whites tended towards the sweet end of the spectrum, which was great for me.  I very nearly bought a bottle of white wine in a bright red glass bottle, for the sheer novelty of it... but I'd already used up my booze importing limit at Target.  Seriously, though, when your favourite Barefoot Pinot Grigio is only $5.50 a bottle, how do you NOT buy one??

In addition to wine, this gift shop was practically blanketed in the red and white of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.  It was EVERYWHERE we went.  And, akin to the cheese hat worn by Green Bay Packers fans, the "Huskers" fans have been known to sport this extremely corny (heh, heh) headgear at games.  It's mortifying, really, but I posed for this pic at my dad's request.  Hope he's happy.
Steph and me, decked out in Husker gear.  We couldn't help poking fun at the families we'd see walking around, all dressed in Huskers gear (and it wasn't even a game day!!)  Sadly, this was not at the aforementioned gift shop... the local J.C. Penney actually had all of this gear in a special section.  I bought a shirt for the sheer hilarity of having "Cornhuskers" written across my chest.  And those N-bedecked women's jean capris?  Designed by Alyssa Milano!  Who knew...

Ahem.  Sorry.  I think I'm done insulting the locals for their obsession with football.  Back to food!!

One of the things that Steph introduced me and my classmates to while in the U.S. was Chipotle Mexican Grill.  I understand that there are a few of these fabulous burrito chains located in Toronto now, but they certainly haven't made their way to Winnipeg as yet.  These things are, to put it simply, AMAZING.  I fell in love with them in Chicago, and most definitely smuggled a few of them back to Windsor for quick dinners with Hubs.  I shall let the pictures speak for me:

And so it begins, with a mystically foil-wrapped package of goodness.  This weighs, no joke, probably around three pounds.
Cross-section.  Allow me to orient you, from top to bottom: fluffy cilantro lime rice, vegetarian black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, mild tomato salsa, spicy chili salsa, guacamole, lettuce, and barely peeking in (though I assure you there was plenty of it), barbacoa beef filling.  I made barbacoa once, to try to recreate this deliciousness... it's basically beef stewed in chipotle pepper adobo sauce.  I cannot even accurately describe the flavour to you... it's just a huge party in your mouth, all surrounded by a warm flour tortilla.
As the wise and gastronomically inclined Professor Albus Dumbledore once said: "TUCK IN."  Eating these are a challenge, though I pride myself in having successfully eaten these behemoth burritos while driving.  TWICE.
Steph opted for the healthier and tidier option: you can have all your burrito fillings, minus the tortilla, as a salad instead.
I love that Chipotle is all about fresh, naturally raised ingredients.  They're also pretty funky, for a fast-food chain.  Check out the soliloquy on chips that one patron sent them... they put it on their cups!  Cool!  Added note: I love that Dr. Pepper is so easy to find in restaurant soda fountains in the States.
We left Chipotle, my inner burrito-craving beast sated (for now).  After more sightseeing, shopping, and enjoying the University of Nebraska at Lincoln's dairy program's ice cream (yummy!), it was time for me to say goodbye and start my drive back to Winnipeg.  I wasn't about to leave the States, though, without a couple more special treats...

Panera Bread, known to us GC students for its fantastic sandwiches, bagels, baked goods... and yes, breads.  This is a pretty big chain of stores, too... and they make some top-notch nosh.  We used to get their sandwiches as a free lunch once a month for cancer genetics educational presentations... mmm.
My sierra turkey sandwich, on asiago focaccia, with some sort of delicious aioli.  It WAS Thanksgiving Monday in Canada, after all... I had to have SOME of the bird to celebrate.
In Grand Forks, North Dakota, I stopped for dinner... and enjoyed a U.S.-only sandwich from the golden arches: the Southern Fried Chicken sandwich.  It's a different chicken patty than they use on their typical chicken sandwich... this one is thicker, juicier, and in my opinion, less processed.  Topped with a few pickle slices on a slightly sweet steamed bun, this thing is delightful...
...especially when paired with McDonald's fresh-brewed Sweet Tea.  This is NOT the same as the lame Nestea that Canadian McD's have.  This is The Real Deal.  It's things like this that make me wonder if I was a Southern Belle in a previous life...
So there you have it.  A successful weekend in the U.S. of A, visiting a dear friend and pigging out on all the unique and delicious foods that I've missed.  I have heard rumours that Winnipeg will be getting an Ikea and a Target in the relatively near future... is it too much to hope that some of these American gems will follow?

Unashamedly proclaiming her admiration for the red, white, and blue,